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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:1, Spring 2023

Epistles: Whence-a-Word?: “Fleshpots of Egypt”

Biblical Archaeology Review

Complaining about the harshness of life during their desert wanderings en route to the Promised Land, the Israelites hankered for the comforts they knew as slaves in Egypt: “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread” (Exodus 16:3). Certainly exaggerated, the biblical term “fleshpots” refers explicitly to large metal cauldrons used for cooking meat; implicitly, it refers to physical comfort that was provided to the Israelites in the land of their bondage. Rather than being grateful for their miraculous escape from Egyptian slavery, the people remembered fondly this one aspect of their former life.

The expression “fleshpots of Egypt” is thus used of good things no longer at our command. Sighing over the fleshpots of Egypt specifically describes a situation when someone is delivered from ignoble circumstances but later looks back at their prior condition with rose-tinted glasses.

In modern usage, fleshpots represent physical or sensual pleasures enjoyed to excess, such as food, drink, sex, drugs, or luxury. The term can also denote a certain place or area with a luxurious or hedonistic atmosphere.

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